Crossing Paths Arc: Part 25

Part 25: Tiger
by Kracken

Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, violence, Language

"Ready?" Heero called back to Duo as he hovered the ship some distance from the installation.

Duo zipped up his flight jacket and then hung onto a strap by the hatch as he braced his knees. "Ready," he replied tightly.

"Love you, Duo!" Heero said as he turned back to the controls.

Duo grinned through the tension and replied, "Love you too, Heero. I won't let you down. I can do this."

"We wouldn't be here if I doubted that."

The ship dropped like a stone. Duo's feet almost left the deck. He gripped the strap with both hands, his stomach somewhere near the vicinity of his throat. As soon as the ship leveled out and stopped its decent, the hatch opened. Air whipped Duo's braid around and blew his bangs back from his excited, amethyst eyes.

Duo didn't wait for any cue from Heero. He was a veteran. He dropped the few feet to the ground and then began running for the woods nearby, gravel crunching and the force of the ship's sudden ascent into the heavens almost shoving him onto his face.

Duo felt his knees aching, tendons and muscles straining, but he refused to slow, afraid that someone would come to investigate. The cold was bone chilling and Duo was glad to have the jacket. It protected his body as well as he bolted through undergrowth and felt the rake of thorn bushes more than once.

When Duo reached the building, he hugged the shadows and waited for his breathing to slow and the sweat to dry on his face. He shivered convulsively, hunched and holding his hands under his armpits for warmth. When he was sure that he was completely rested, he went over his memorized map and began searching for an access vent.

A great deal of the instillation was sunk into the rock. Without vents and air systems, the people working there would have quickly become ill or even died depending on how deep they were. Those vents were an unavoidable vulnerability, but there were defenses. Sometimes, they had laser shields and alarms when the vents were required to be large enough to move large amounts of air. Vents in smaller installations had a simpler defense, they were made too small for most men to enter. Duo saw quickly that the latter was the case with this building.

Duo used a tool to loosen the bolts of the vent, measuring the size of it with his eyes. He was feeling a bit of awe for Heero's thorough knowledge of the mission. He must have known the exact size already and had calculated that Duo would fit.

Duo stopped moving. A wind whipped over him, but it didn't rival the sudden chill of realization that swept through him. He tried to deny it to himself. There were many installations with vents of the same sort. The chances of there being two such missions with two such requirements... Duo went grim and his heart became a lump of ice in his chest as he finished unscrewing the bolts. It was too late to question the mission. When he had the information and was standing in front of Heero again, then was the time to demand some answers.

The vent cover came off. Duo's hands were shaking so much that he dropped it. It clattered loudly and Duo, tensing, waited for sounds of discovery. When none came, he pulled off the jacket and then squeezed himself into the vent.

In space, a man couldn't be claustrophobic. Life was spent in and out of space suits and shoved into cramped living quarters on space stations. Duo didn't feel any trepidation as he slid head first down a tube that enclosed him completely all around and barely gave him enough room to breathe. He knew a juncture somewhere far below would give him more room, but until then, he had to force his body, with minimal traction on slick metal, down the narrow vent. He tried not to imagine what would happen if he became stuck. Only the smell of a rotting corpse would alert people of the fact.

Duo had too much time to think about Heero. Was the man double crossing him, tricking him, making him complete a mission he had only hinted at when they had been at Duo's apartment? How far could he, Duo, believe in coincidence?

Duo wondered what he would do if it were true. Heero loved him, or did he? Was that a trick too? Duo remembered warm lips and warm hands; eyes the color of deep blue oceans looking at him with... no, Duo was certain that Heero loved him, yet he was also certain that completing a mission was still Heero's end all be all in life. He was still a soldier. He might have had a lover teaching him how to be something other than the machine that Dr. J. had created for his Gundam Wing, but it was a thin crust over his all powerful sense of duty.

Duo wondered in what direction Heero's sense of duty had taken him. If this was a trick, if he was getting information other than proof that he hadn't been a unification sympathizer, then who was that information for and to what purpose? Duo remembered Heero's condemnation of Zechs and Relena along with him. He didn't trust them. Duo wished now that he had questioned Heero further about that. He had fought for Relena as a ‘bringer of peace'. If he wasn't able to trust her now, then giving her information wouldn't make sense. So, Duo wondered, if he was getting information under false pretenses, then who WOULD it be for?

Duo reached the juncture. He gratefully squeezed out of the narrower vent and let his body relax in the larger one. Going over his mental map, Duo then went left, hoping that the place didn't have any over zealous people working late. He had all but promised himself that he wouldn't kill. Duo want to keep that promise.

Duo heard the rumble of thunder, the vent shivering with the vibration of the sound. Good, Duo thought. If any system picked up on his activity they might pass it off as surges in the system from the storm. Everything was going perfect so far. Duo didn't allow himself to trust it enough to relax as he took two turns and then stopped at a vent grate. Duo cursed silently when he saw how very small it was. He was thin, but he wondered if Heero had made his first mistake and he wasn't going to be thin enough to fit through.

Very faintly, Duo heard the tapping of keys. Someone was there in the room, but not very close. He still had a chance, he thought confidently. Computer rooms in installations like the one he was in were often large rooms full of banks of servers, storage units, and work stations. It was possible to slip into such a room, do his infiltration, and escape undetected.

Duo checked his knife in the sheath at his belt, his garroting wire in his braid, and then touched his chest. He wasn't sure why he did the last motion, only that it was an old habit when he was nervous or needed luck. His fingers rubbed his skin just below his breastbone as if searching for something comforting. It always ended up making him feel frustrated instead, and he didn't know why that should be any more than he knew why he did the ritual to begin with.

Duo used a tool to get the screws of the vent undone. Pulling it out quietly, he set it beside him and then looked through the opening. He had been right. The room was sectioned off and he was above a cubicle. Duo smiled. Perfect. All he had to do was drop down and begin work.

"Stupid coffee machine!" a voice grumbled and someone suddenly appeared in Duo's view and sat down heavily in a chair. Duo had a view of a balding man's head, a white lab coat, and assorted I.D. tags as the man scooted forward and began typing on a computer keyboard. A schematic displayed itself on the screen, moved, and changed viewpoints. "How the Hell can someone work late without coffee?" the man muttered.

Duo sat back in the vent, his hands turned into fists of frustration. This wasn't the war, he thought. Eliminating that man would be murder, pain and simple. Duo had often planted bombs knowing his target was filled with harmless men and women working along side the soldiers. His worst nightmares were often haunted by their many faces. He couldn't bring himself to add to that parade of ghosts.

Decision made, Duo squeezed through the vent opening feet first, very slowly, very quietly, using his restored arm muscles to take his weight while his hands gripped the edge of the slippery, metal vent. When his body was almost completely through, Duo cocked back a foot and simply went, "Ahem." When the man looked up, startled, Duo let loose with his foot and caught him on the chin. The man was thrown sideways and then he went limp, hanging half out of his chair and unconscious.

Duo dropped down beside the man, checked his pulse, and was glad to feel it beating strongly.

"Sam?" A voice called from across the room. "Did you get that coffee maker working?"

Duo deepened his voice as much as he could and growled back irritably, "No!"

"What kind of damned engineer can't even fix a coffee maker, for Christ's Sake?!" the voice snarled back and then was silent. Duo heard the tapping of keys start up again and he breathed a sigh of relief, sweat running down his face.

Duo sat on the unconscious man's lap as he slipped his disk into the computer and began searching for the information codes. When the download bar popped up he almost exclaimed, ‘Shit!' out loud as he saw how much time it would take. Fifty minutes! Fifty damn minutes he had to sit and wait while a man sat not five yards away ready to discover him at any moment!

Duo propped the unconscious man up, folded his arms across his chest, and put him in an attitude of a man having fallen asleep. Duo then slipped under the desk between the man's legs and tried to blend with the shadows.

Time ticked by. Again, Duo had too much time to think. Simple information about himself shouldn't be taking that long to down load. He knew that he couldn't avoid the realization that the information he was getting, at risk of his freedom and maybe his life, might be something that didn't have anything to do with him.

Duo felt his heart clench and he stifled a sob against his upraised knees. He couldn't fall apart now! He couldn't let emotions make him vulnerable. He had to keep his mind where it belonged, on the mission. Whether it was his or someone else's mission was irrelevant. Duo was committed. He had to finish.

It was something, he supposed, that Heero hadn't insisted that he upload to a remote site. Heero wouldn't have underestimated Duo's ability to figure things out during the retrieval of the information. Heero wanted to see him again, hopefully to explain. Duo prayed that Heero's explanation was going to be good enough to allow him to keep loving the man.

"Trust him, he told me," Duo whispered, a mere breath in the near silence. "I will, a little longer."

"Sam?!" an irritated voice growled and a man rounded the corner of the cubicle. Duo shrank back. "You were supposed to download those files to me ten minutes ago!" The man stopped. Duo could only see his feet. "Oh, I guess you are... and you're asleep at the switch again. Why they don't fire you..." Duo heard a pen scraping across paper, heard the paper rattle, and then saw the feet walk away.

Cautiously, Duo peeked out from under the table. His victim was still asleep, but a paper had been taped to his balding forehead. The note read, "When you wake up, and if no one has fired your lazy ass, upload file 3344995b4 to me." In any other circumstances, Duo would have laughed. Instead, he pulled the note off of the man, feeling a little sorry for him, and then turned to see how his download was progressing.

Ten minutes left. That ten minutes seemed to take an eternity as Duo listened for the man in the room to approach again or for his victim to wake up. He sighed in relief when The bar finally flashed complete and none of his worst fears materialized. Pulling out his disk, Duo shoved it into his pants and then looked up at the vent. Getting back inside of it was not going to be easy.

Duo climbed up on top of the unconscious man, feeling uncomfortable at the close contact. He was forced to balance for a moment, with his crotch almost in the man's face, as he found a place to put his feet. Once his footing was secure, he slowly straightened, making a quick survey of the room. He couldn't see the other occupant of the room, but he felt far from safe as he reached up and gripped the edge of the vent.

To get into the vent required an acrobatic move that, during the war, he wouldn't have thought twice about accomplishing. He had been very limber back then, used to the streets of L2 and the precarious life there that had often required him to swing from fire escapes and the bones of old buildings and to squeeze into spaces that hadn't been big enough for a rat let alone a child. Now, he could only hope that the ghost of that skill was going to be enough to get him to safety.

Duo swung his legs, hanging in mid air. The vent made a crunching sound and Duo grimaced in trepidation. Quickly, he pulled his body up. It was difficult, almost impossible, to inch his way to another handhold inside the vent and to squeeze his body back inside. Once he had accomplished it, he felt a thrill of pride and a flaring of pain. He had stressed muscles and scraped and cut himself on the sharp edges of the vent. He was dripping blood. Duo ignored it as he listened and made certain that he hadn't been over heard. He had made a lot of noise. He wondered if the man was deaf, until he saw him stand up and stretch and saw that he was wearing headphones. What ever he was listening to had drowned out Duo's noises.

"Damn, you're lucky tonight!" Duo muttered to himself as he began inching his way down the vent system. Not lucky in love though, he amended, and began to plan what he was going to say to the ex pilot of Wing when they met up again.

Going up through the narrow part of the vent, Duo kept his eyes on the exit and refused to consider getting stuck as he painfully inched up the slick metal surface. He would make it, he kept repeating to himself, even when he discovered that the section nearest the surface was wet with condensation. Failure wasn't an option even when his progress was soon reduced to two inches forward and one inch back as he kept slipping.

Finally, Duo reached the surface. He climbed out into blessed chill air and shivered convulsively as the sweat dripping down his body was almost turned instantly into ice. He threw himself into the coat that was still there and was about to collapse onto the hard roof to rest, when he heard the sound of engines roaring above him.

A search light picked him out with a narrow beam and Duo staggered as wind almost flattened him. Down thrusters came close to frying him on all sides as the transport did a perfect descent directly over him. The ramp was extended, making a dangerous wind tunnel for the ship, but the pilot expertly compensated as Duo grabbed the lip of the ramp, pulled himself on, and then clawed his way into the transport despite the turbulence and shifting deck.

The ramp retracted immediately and the hatch almost closed on Duo's backside. Duo knew what came next. He tried to dive for a security strap, but he was too late. The ship's thrusters went to full power before Duo could brace his knees. The last sight Duo had, before lights exploded behind his eyes and darkness descended, was the deck rushing up to slam into his face.

Duo awoke feeling as if one side of his face was one large bruise. It throbbed sickeningly as he slowly opened his eyes. Sally Po frowned down at him, flashed a light into his pupils, and looked pleased when he blinked rapidly.

"Nothing broken," she announced briskly. "How do you feel, Duo?"

"Terrible," Duo groaned as he tried to piece together how he had ended up in a sterile operating room with Sally Po. It was very difficult. "What-"

"Heero brought you in," Sally told him as she busied herself with putting some instruments away.

"Heero...." Duo remembered then and he tried to sit up quickly. The room whirled and he found himself on his back again with Sally's hand on his shoulder.

"No you don't, mister!" Sally warned. You just went through surgery and you have a nasty concussion."


Sally leaned over Duo again and pulled a sheet up under his chin. "We couldn't remove the leg locator without replacing a great deal of bone and damaging nerves so I operated and attached a jammer on the locator. Now you send out a signal, but the wrong signal. It can pass as low level radio waves."

"Great!" Duo groaned. "More hardware under my skin!"

Sally looked serious as she said, "Well, I could just remove your lower leg and foot if the thought is that disturbing to you?"

"No, thanks" Duo replied acidly and then, trying to think past the pain and the drugs from his surgery, he asked, "Where is Heero?"

Sally replied firmly, "He's nearby, but I'm going to fill you in on a few things before he comes in. He wasn't cleared to do so-"

"Where the fuck is he?!" Duo shouted in her face, ignoring the effect that had on his throbbing skull. "He double crossed me! I want to see him explain why he did it!"

"He didn't double cross you," Sally explained patiently. "If you would just listen-"

"I want Heero. Now!" Duo shouted, face going red and the room dimming with the force of his fury.

"I'm right here," Heero said softly as he came into the room. He jerked his chin at the door, indicating that Sally should leave.

Sally frowned disapprovingly, but then sighed, "Call me when you are through shouting. Duo is still recovering and needs to be monitored."

"Understood," Heero replied. He waited until she was gone before he approached Duo.

"I realized that I wasn't just getting information about myself when I downloaded," Duo told him angrily, "but you knew that I would, so why didn't you come clean to me BEFORE the mission? I could have aborted right then and there and told you to go take a flying fuck!"

"I knew that you wouldn't," Heero admitted quietly and he wasn't meeting Duo's eyes.

"Come here!" Duo demanded. When Heero moved to stand by the table Duo lay on, Duo reached up quickly and grabbed his chin hard. Heero winced as Duo forced him to meet his eyes. "Time for a confession, Heero! Time to tell me that you were using me all along!"

Heero met Duo's gaze steadily. Though his expression was set hard, Duo could see something powerful moving behind Heero's eyes. "That's an illogical conclusion. I could have simply found a female Preventer close to the required build to complete the mission."

"Who had the upper body strength to get back into the vent after retrieval?" Duo scoffed. "I don't think so!"

"I wasn't aware that you were so familiar with female physiology," Heero replied.

Duo glared. "Are you making a JOKE, Yuy, because I don't think this is the freakin' time for it!"

"Duo, it's true that I did take advantage of the situation," Heero confessed, "But that was at Sally Po's orders. You needed the information in the government database and the Preventers needed information concerning certain subversive groups. Duo, lives will be saved because you retrieved that information."

"Why didn't you explain?" Duo demanded and he couldn't help the anguish in his voice. The drugs were playing havoc with his mind. He couldn't even keep Heero in focus. His grip on the man loosened and he let his hand drop. "Do you think that I don't care about people's lives? Do you think, that if you had explained, I wouldn't have jumped at the chance to help out willingly?"

"You refused the first time I brought it up," Heero reminded him.

"Yet you still thought-"

"I did what was necessary!" Heero cut him off sharply.

They stared at each other, Heero like stone and Duo panting and trying to focus on the argument. Finally, Duo turned his face sharply away. "This isn't the war," Duo complained.

"It is!" Heero snarled and Duo looked at him again, startled. "The war never ended, Duo, we're still fighting it!" He reached down and gripped Duo's hand, leaning close. "We fought against corrupt men who wanted to take away our freedom. Can't you see that they are still trying to do that, that you are a casualty of their grab for power? They have to be stopped! You agreed to the mission. You agreed of your own free will. I didn't force you, Duo. I won't apologize for using the opportunity to retrieve such vital information or for keeping it a secret from you for fear that you would react just this way and refuse the mission all together!"

"That extra time could have gotten me arrested," Duo replied. "I wasn't expecting it."

"You are the best at infiltration," Heero told him. "I knew that you would succeed. That's why I considered you for the mission from the very start."

"Do you think flattery will make me feel better about this?" Duo demanded hotly.

"I did what had to be done," Heero told him, unbendingly. "Accept or reject it. Accept or reject me. I can't tell you that I wouldn't have done it, knowing your reaction now, and I won't tell you that I'm sorry, except to say that I'm sorry that I had to involve you when you didn't wish to be."

Heero was very close. Duo stared at him, searched his face, tried to see the man who loved him, who had promised not to use him. He reached up with both arms and wrapped them around Heero's neck. He pulled the man down against his chest and began to cry, his control broken by pain and drugs. "Don't make me hate you, Heero, please!" he wept. "Don't do this to me!"

Duo felt himself lifted into Heero's arms and they clung together. Heero replied and his voice wasn't very steady, "You know what kind of man I am, Duo. I can't change. I will always strive for peace, no matter what the cost. It's a part of me. If you can't accept that, then you can't accept me."

"Heero the Hero," Duo wept. "I don't want to get trampled every time you have to save the universe."

Heero kissed Duo's face and then his lips, arms like steel bands as they held Duo's wiry body close to him. "I can't give it up for you, Duo. I would give anything else.... anything but my need to help other people be free and at peace."

Duo sniffled, feeling as if he were a child. He wiped at the tears on his face, hating the drugs that were making him unable to stop them. "Suddenly I'm the bad guy. Suddenly, I'm selfish Duo who doesn't give a rat's butt about anyone enough to let his love go off to fight or to help him out when he needs it. That isn't right, Heero. I'm not the bad guy. You used me. You lied to me. There isn't any ‘us' if I can't trust you. You can wrap it up and make it pretty, but that's how things are."

"It hurts," Heero said softly.

"It's supposed to when you break up," Duo replied bitterly.

"Are we doing that?"

"Maybe not," Duo replied, feeling fresh tears, "Maybe we had to be a couple to begin with."

"I can't change," Heero insisted and Duo heard desolation in the man's voice.

"I know," Duo sobbed and he clung to Heero even tighter. "I know."

"He needs to rest," Sally broke in apologetically. Duo recoiled from Heero, embarrassed and ashamed that she was seeing him cry. He wiped anxiously at his face and turned away as Sally said, "If it's any explanation, Duo... I ordered him to retrieve that information. He didn't want to. He formally protested. But Heero knows, just as I think that you do, that it was necessary."

"I don't want to talk about this right now!" Duo growled and pulled the sheet up around himself. "I can't think. Stupid drugs!"

There was a silence and then Heero asked tentatively. "Will you want to talk about it later?" It was a plea. Heero wanted to know if it was really over between them without any chance for reconciliation.

Duo let him hang in the wind for a long moment, but it didn't make him feel any better, so he finally snapped. "Yeah, later! Now get the Hell out!"

Go to Part 26: Ghosts

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